File photo (Yonhap)
South Korea will terminate a mask rationing system on Sunday as the supply of face masks designed to help fight the new coronavirus has stabilized, the country's drug safety agency said Tuesday.
As prices of protective masks skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 outbreak here, the country introduced the mask rationing system in early March in a bid to smooth out high demand.
Under the current scheme, citizens are allowed to buy a limited number of protective masks every week at pharmacies for 1,500 won ($1.24). The weekly limit started with two masks and was raised to up to 10 masks.
With the termination of the scheme, citizens will be able to buy an unlimited number of masks at market prices.
Demand for masks sharply stabilized recently as the country has successfully flattened the virus curve, while the mask supply has continued to rise, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
Weekly outputs of protective masks have reached more than 100 million since the first week of June, according to the agency.
"As the production has expanded, the mask supply has stabilized," Lee Eui-kyung, chief of the agency, said in a briefing.
Last month, the government decided to extend the mask rationing scheme, supposed to end on June 30, to July 11 in an effort to help people easily buy masks.
But in case of emergency, the government said it will maintain mask stockpiles large enough to meet a sudden rise in demand.
The country will maintain restrictions on exports of masks for their stable local supply, but it will raise the permissible volume of outbound shipments.
Currently, masks producers are allowed to export up to 30 percent of their total output. The government will operate the monthly exports quota system, under which the total amount of permissible monthly exports should not surpass 50 percent of total production.
But the country will continue to ban overseas shipments of surgical masks and thinner anti-saliva masks to meet local demand for such products in the summer. (Yonhap)